Catch Your Breath

Meaning of Idiom ‘Catch Your (or one’s) Breath’

1. To catch one’s breath is to resume normal breathing, or to struggle to resume normal breathing after becoming out of breath due to physical effort or vigorous exercise. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,2Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.

2. To stop for a short time to rest or relax, especially to think about something or in order to be able to continue an activity. 3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,4Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms]. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.

3. Sometimes, to catch your breath is similar to ‘hold one’s breath,’ meaning to stop breathing momentarily, especially due to fear or a sudden shock or surprise. 5Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.,6Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.

Compare out of breath.

Usage Notes

Using catch one’s breath in the sense of ‘to stop breathing’ is more commonly rendered as ‘one’s breath caught in one’s throat’:

“His breath caught in his throat when he saw the magnificent view of the Grand Canyon.”

This describes a sudden intake of breath and a momentary pause before exhalation. Also used without ‘in one’s throat.’

Examples Of Use

“I have to catch my breath. I haven’t run this far in ages.”

“Just let me catch my breath for a minute.”

“I have to stop at the top of each flight to catch my breath. I’m so out of shape.”

“I could barely catch my breath after running this morning but I’m so happy I did it. Now maybe I will finally get in shape again.”

“Let’s just stop for a moment and catch out breaths. We need to make a plan.”

“Things are moving too fast. I need some time to catch my breath and think.”

Origin

Used since the early 1800s, except for sense two, which has been used since the first half of the 1900s. 7Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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